‘Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.’
Whoever uses the phrase “a piece of cake” to denote ease most likely has not seen Shakar Bakery’s exquisite, intricately designed cakes.
Like many a great idea and successful business model, Shakar Bakery was born out of unemployment. In an interview with the Armenian Weekly, the bakery’s founder, Shantal Der Boghosian, explained, “I graduated from UCLA with a master’s degree in environmental engineering just in time for the economic crash. Coincidently, my contract job as a chemist ended the same week that I graduated, and I entered a six-month period of ‘funemployment.’ The endless rejection e-mails were disheartening and I started to think of ways I could get by until I found a full-time job. To distract myself, I made more cakes and started a blog documenting my work. I sculpted a Pi cake for a mathematician friend, and a purse cake for my fashionista best friend.”
“It wasn’t until I finished designing the purse cake that I had my ‘ah-ha!’ moment and realized that I was pretty good at cake decorating and should open up a business,” she added.
Although Shaker Bakery was officially founded in December 2009, Der Boghosian had been baking cakes for the family since she was eight.
It took some time for the idea of starting a business to take shape. “I never had any formal training in cake decorating and I had plenty of competition in Los Angeles. I used all my ‘funemployment’ time to research all about cake decorating online. YouTube, Google, and Cake Boss became my best friends. I also knew that choosing a name was very important, and it took weeks before I settled on Shakar Bakery. It was easy for both Armenians and non-Armenians to pronounce, easy to remember, and the best part was that it translated to sugar or sweet!”
Friends and family were Shakar Bakery’s main customers the first few months. “They were kind enough to let me bake for their events, and I would share my blog posts on Facebook. The two orders that paved way to success came from two friends! One friend ordered a few dozen baby shower cookies, and another friend ordered a 3-tier baptism cake for 100 people. I remember Googling ‘how to tier fondant cakes’ in order to prepare for the order, and I only charged $60 for that cake even though I spent 18 hours making it,” Der Boghosian recounted.
After starting a full-time engineering job, she started cramming her full-time “Shakar hours” into after-work hours. “I work on my cakes when I get home from work at 5 p.m. and call it a night around 12:30 a.m., since I wake up at 5 a.m. for work,” she said.
Shakar Bakery’s business is, mainly, online based (www.shakarbakery.com), and most of the orders are made via e-mail or by phone. “Facebook has been the best source of advertisement for me and I have received many emails from people saying their friend ‘liked’ my picture and that’s how they heard about me.”
“The biggest reason I love Shakar Bakery is that I’m always baking for a happy and festive occasion. It’s always a good feeling to interact with happy customers who chose you to design their cake. Although my customers thank me for my work, in the end I’m the one who is grateful for the opportunity to add to their joyous events,” she explained.
Der Boghosian also channels her passion for fundraising through Shakar Bakery. In 2011, she created a special line of cupcakes for a Japan Tsunami Relief fundraiser she was hosting, and donated $800 to the cause.
Jason Love famously said, “I want to have a good body, but not as much as I want dessert.” Shakar Bakery tries to balance the two by making the cakes healthier and tastier. “I have a lot of fun figuring out where recipes are flawed—it really brings out the chemist in me. I submitted my chocolate pumpkin cake recipe to a competition on www.allrecipes.com and I won five stars! The cake is a seasonal flavor since it is made with real pumpkins, and I’ve yet to come across a person who doesn’t moan a little when they take a bite of that cake!”
But the signature Shakar Bakery flavor is a decadent chocolate cake filled with dulce de leche and candied walnuts that Der Boghosian makes herself.